Huddersfield-based Bespoke Stairlifts was created by business partners Dave Burns and Gavin Finn with the sole aim of providing a cost effective solution for people with limited mobility, but who also lived in properties with curved or complicated staircases. Existing suppliers focussed on straight staircases, with maybe a 90 degree turn at the top, at most.
Not being from manufacturing backgrounds their solution to this problem was to refabricate second hand stairlifts to create a bespoke solution for every installation. Initially it targeted customers through its dealer network in the UK, but when the financial crisis hit the challenge was to open up Europe for potential business. This it did with amazing success. So much so that, in a way, it became a victim of its own success and the task of finding used stairlifts to refabricate. Therefore, the obvious solution was to develop its own brand new stairlifts and begin manufacturing from scratch.
One of the obstacles in the way of this development was the lack of manufacturing experience at Bespoke Stairlifts, especially when it came to tube bending for the rails on which the stairlift operates. “When it comes to re-engineering existing stairlifts we have no problem, as we have gained masses of experience over the 11 years that we have been in business. But out and out manufacture was something completely new to us, so we knew we would need to work with suppliers that were willing, and capable of helping us along the way. This meant that we looked at a number of potential suppliers for our tube bending requirement, but everything kept bringing us back to BLM and its ELECT 80 Tube bending system, which we felt suited our needs perfectly,” says Simon Waddington, Bespoke Stairlift’s Director of Product Development.
Bespoke Stairlift’s requirement was also unusual in the fact that they have a typical batch size of one-off, as every stairlift has a different configuration. This meant that whatever tube bending system they chose, it had to have a control system that would allow them, as ‘novices’, to be able to quickly master the process of programming and setting the machine.
Further complicating the process was the fact that these rails featured complex helical bends that, in effect, require the machine to bend and twist the rail at the same time. Here BLM provided the confidence through support and advice for Bespoke Stairlifts. “In one respect it was good that we had no experience of tube bending as that meant we didn’t realise how difficult it might be to create some of the shapes that we needed, so we just got on with it. We did this though in the knowledge that BLM were at the end of the telephone and their support was excellent. Not only did it include telephone support, but we also had back up from their engineers, who went through the software and programming for the more complex forms we were producing. BLM delivered on everything they promised,” says Simon Waddington.
The BLM ELECT 80, which forms part of a £1 million plus investment by Bespoke Stairlifts to create its own product range, is part of the ELECT range of fully electric CNC tube bending systems that feature nine axes of movement, a bend head that features left or right hand bend sensing configuration, variable radius bending and a the multi-stack tool mount allows up to eight tools to be used on the same tube in a single set up, facilitating multi radii bends as well as bends with minimal straight tube between them as well as compound bends. The machine is controlled via a Siemens PC-based system that includes BLM’s own 3D visual graphic programming (VGP3D) software. The VGP3D software enables the user to effect real time bend simulation and automatically select the shortest and most efficient bending cycle, which in turn reduces cycle time and manufacturing cost. The system also highlights any possible collision points, and suggests practical alternative bend sequences.
Another factor that simplified the decision for Bespoke was BLM’s B-HELIX software option, which was developed in conjunction with some of Europe’s largest stairlift and balustrade manufacturers. This highly innovative software option enables Bespoke to simply input two pieces of data (staircase lift and radius) for the required stairlift into the CNC control, and the B-HELIX software, running via BLM’s VGP programming and control software, automatic calculates the helix and shape needed for the stairlift rails. The rails are then produced using BLM’s variable radius bending technology on the ELECT 80.
“The decision to begin manufacturing our own product was a major decision and has involved significant financial input and time and brought with it a steep learning curve for all of us that were involved in the process. However, it is a decision that will allow Bespoke Stairlifts to continue to grow and we are already looking to employ additional engineering staff to help manage the ongoing production process,” says Simon Waddington.